I used to be really into AKB48 and all of the other 48 groups, but when I moved to Japan and discovered underground idols, I lost interest pretty quickly. I still follow the music and follow Sayanee and Meru casually, but my fandom is nowhere near what it once was. Most people who are or were 48G fans and have been to Japan have met many more 48G idols than I have, but I did meet a few and I thought it might be fun to share my experiences as an underground idol fan. Just FYI, these encounters were all in June 2016 except for Sayanee, which was in November 2016. Also, assume I’m talking in Japanese, except for with Hirari.
Rina Hirata (ex-AKB48)
Hirari was my first ever 48G handshake. I was pretty nervous about meeting the 48G members, so I thought if I met Hirari first, it’d help ease my nerves a bit, since she’s a native English speaker. I didn’t want to see her just because she spoke English or anything though, don’t get me wrong, I was a fan of her because of her dancing, singing, and fun personality in MCs and YouTube videos. I went to see her first or second slot, can’t remember which, but it was fairly early in the morning and her line was completely dead: to be fair, I wasn’t around for long, but I didn’t see anyone besides me get in her line. The first time I talked to her, I just told her that I’m from Minnesota, I was a big fan of her, and I was glad that since I had moved to Tokyo, I could go see her. She asked me if I was a student at an international school which I was a bit taken aback by because I was 22 at the time and I told her that no, I was an English teacher. I’m not sure if she was just trying to be nice or not, but I thought it was pretty funny anyway. I guess she could have thought I was going to an international college, but there aren’t really many of those in Japan.
I looped her right after and the second time I told her that I really liked her Tokyo Ramen episodes. She thanked me and after that, I asked which ramen she recommended. She told me lemon ramen and I thought I might have heard her wrong because I had no idea that was a thing so I asked, “Really, lemon ramen?” and then she confirmed it. I looked it up after and it’s one of the episodes she did, I must have totally forgot it. She probably thought I was such a fake fan. These experiences sound decent, if a bit dull, but to be honest, meeting Hirari was kind of a letdown. She seemed a bit out of it, like she was phoning it in and didn’t really want to be there. Hirari said all the right things, but you could tell her heart wasn’t really in it. I thought my experience with Hirari might be one of my best, because Hirari probably doesn’t get American girls close to her age that come and talk to her often, but she didn’t seem excited at all. Still, it was by no means an awful experience and maybe she was just tired (it was still morning after all), having an off day, or ready to graduate, since she announced graduation about a month later.
Mio Tomonaga (HKT48)
Mio’s line wasn’t super long, but it wasn’t totally dead either; I probably had to wait about five or ten minutes. Anyway, I remember that her (and Meru’s, they had the same one) staff was really strict and kinda mean and really didn’t want to let me go through because my tickets didn’t have the same info as my ID, even though I went through all the proper stamping procedures. After arguing with him in (admittedly shitty) Japanese for a bit, he finally reluctantly let me in line. I was able to watch her interact with other fans pretty well when I got close to the front and I quickly noticed two things: her smile is absolutely radiant in real life and she always keeps the exact same smile for everyone. I did notice her drop the big smile with this one guy who had a bunch of tickets for her, was talking to her for a while, and seemed to be trying to tell her something serious, but with everyone else, she had the same big smile no matter what they were telling her (I couldn’t hear, obviously). There was a little girl, probably about six or seven, with her mom a little bit in front of me and while Mio’s smile looked exactly the same, she was obviously pretty excited and just spent the whole handshake time pinching the little girl’s cheeks. Apparently, if you have a little kid and you want to take them to see an idol, Mio’s a good choice.
Anyway, when it was my turn, I just decided that I wanted to spend my time trolling Mio. I’m not sure if this still gets referenced a lot, but I used to watch a lot of NGT48 videos and they had a show with HKT48 called Sashikita Kassen. In that show, it was often mentioned how similar Mio looked to NGT48 member Noe Yamada, so I greeted her as Noeppi. At first she said, “I’m Mio!” in English and seemed to think that maybe I was legitimately confused, but I continued to say things like “Nooo, you’re Noeppi!”, “You’re definitely Noeppi!” and “Stop joking, you’re Noeppi!”. She kept denying it with her big smile, but I couldn’t really tell if she was amused or annoyed, since like I said, she always has the same expression. At the very end, I told her “Just kidding, love you Mio” and made a heart, but again, I couldn’t tell if she was enjoying the interaction or just wanted me to leave already. It was a pretty stupid interaction, but I think Mio’s smile is something that fans should try to see in person at least once.
Meru Tashima (HKT48)
Like I said, Meru also had the same staff member that was kind of a dick when I went to see her, but he gave me less of a hard time when I continued to keep going back in line (still didn’t seem to like me though). Meru’s line was a little longer than Mio’s, but not too much longer. I told her that her smile was the best and then she thanked me and asked where I was from in English. I responded that I was from America, which made her kind of excited. I told her senbatsu dorobou (I think that was on her poster that year?), which made her happy and then that I was going to the sousenkyo and would support her. Side note: she didn’t do very well that year and wasn’t anywhere close to making senbatsu, which was a bummer.
I went back a second time and this time, I told her I was a big fan of her subunit, Tentoumu Chu. She thanked me and also thanked me for coming to see her another time. After that, I told her that I really wanted Tentoumu Chu to get their own single. Meru seemed sorta sad when I said that and said “Me too….” but I could tell with her reaction that it wasn’t going to happen. She immediately realized that she was being a bit of a bummer, so she cheered me and herself up by starting to sing Kimi dake ni Chu Chu Chu. After the “Kimi dake ni”, she said “se no!” and made me do the chu chu chu with her. Meeting Meru was a great experience and my best experience meeting a 48G idol. I got the impression that she really cares about her fans and listens very closely to what you have to say. You can tell that some idols at handshake events are only half-listening or trying so hard to fish you that they don’t really care about what you have to say, but Meru wasn’t like that at all. She seemed really genuine and talking to her felt like talking to a friend. Even though I’m more into underground idols now, I’d like to meet Meru again before she graduates. One other random thing about Meru and Mio: at the handshake event I went to in June 2016, I noticed a middle aged couple: one decked out in Meru goods, the other Mio. Not that important, but I thought it was pretty cute.
Minami Kato (NGT48)
When it was my turn to talk to Katomina, I was immediately blown away by how strong her idol aura was and the fact that she was definitely prettier in person than in pictures. I hear people say this a lot about idols, but normally, I never think it: they look about the same to me. Katomina, though, is one of the few idols that I think you have see in person to properly judge her beauty. Anyway, I started by calling her Rena-chan (her character in the Higurashi drama she was in) and said “Omochikaeri~”, Rena’s signature phrase. After that my mind totally blanked and I probably stuttered a bit, but I was able to get out that I watched the Higurashi drama she was in and thought her acting was really impressive. I don’t remember much about the show (well, I mean, I’ve watched the anime but I don’t remember much about NGT’s version specifically) and I never actually finished watching it, but I do remember this being a bit of a lie: in my opinion, she was average at best. She was excited when I said this, thanked me, laughed (in a friendly way not a “you’re such a loser” way), and said I was cute. It’s always nice to be called cute by an idol, so I left the handshake pretty happy. Katomina’s really pretty and sweet and meeting her was a nice experience.
Moeka Takakura (NGT48)
When Moeka saw me come up to talk to her, she seemed happy but shocked. I greeted her with Yurufuwappa (I don’t remember why, it was some joke….I think for April Fools that year she said she was changing her name to that or something?) but she didn’t seem to be listening at all, was still in shock, made weird hand gestures, and just awkwardly said “Hello!” in English. After that, I launched into Japanese saying I was a big fan of NGT, I heard her special skill was playing piano, and I really wanted to hear her play piano. She responded in a really fast, mumbly, and excited way and I honestly have no idea what she said, but she was obviously happy that I liked NGT and knew things about her. I think she realized that I didn’t get what she said, so she kept thanking me, told me to come again, and kept grabbing my hands. Okappa was awkward, but I really got the impression she was trying her best. I have a feeling she’s more used to people who are obviously foreigners now, so I think she’d react a bit differently.
Yuka Ogino (NGT48)
Katomina, Okappa, and Ogiyuka all had lines that were about the same length, but Ogiyuka’s was the longest and Okappa’s was the shortest. I had to wait maybe 10-20 minutes for each of them. All of the NGT girls were really close to each other, so it was easy to watch the other girls interact with fans while you were in line. At one point, I could see Katomina really well and she was taking a break, just drinking some water and I think using her cell phone. Since I’d already gone and talked to her, I made a heart at her for a few seconds. She wasn’t looking in my direction, so she didn’t notice, but the fan in front of me in Ogiyuka’s line did and immediately turned around and gave me a death glare. I don’t know what his problem was, maybe he was mad it me for not only caring about Ogiyuka or something? It’s one of the only times I’ve had another Japanese idol fan act in a bit of a rude way towards me. Also, when I was waiting in line, there was a woman in front of me talking to Ogiyuka that made her do the loudest “EHH?!??! SUGOI!!!!” I’d ever heard in my life. I was really curious what she said that made Ogiyuka react so strongly, did she say she sold her house to buy her votes or something?
When I got up to see Ogiyuka, it was obvious that she is just as ridiculously genki in real life as she is in variety shows and lives. I congratulated her for ranking in the prelims, told her I wanted her to rank in at the sousenkyo (which she didn’t, unfortunately), and told her that I would be there in Niigata. She just kept thanking me really enthusiastically and when I told her I was going to the sousenkyo, she was shocked and did a fairly loud “eh???” The next time I went to see her, I told her that I watched her Showroom and asked her to wink. The other day, she had done a stream where she talked about how bad she was at winking and showed her fans, so I wanted to see it in person. For some reason, Yuka was having a really hard time understanding me and kept saying a confused “eh?” To be fair, my Japanese isn’t good and was even worse then, but I never had any problems talking with any of the other 48G girls and I wasn’t trying to say anything particularly difficult. Anyway, she finally got it and did the most fail wink ever where both of her eyes were closed. I laughed and told her “hetappi wink”, which she repeated back to me. One thing about Ogiyuka is that she follows everyone out as they are being escorted away, so the last things that she said were when the staff member was making me leave. She definitely puts in a lot of effort to fish fans, but I swear she seemed hard of hearing or something.
Sayaka Yamamoto (NMB48)
I decided to see Sayanee at a national handshake event kind of last minute and bought five tickets from someone I knew. I was meeting my friend, Ven, there, but I ended up being kind of late, so she had already done a handshake with Sayanee and was in line for another when I got there. If you’d like to know more about Ven and her experiences with Sayanee, you can listen to our podcast together here. By the time I got to the venue (Makuhari Messe), it was mid-afternoon and the line for Sayanee was insane. I knew her lines were long, but I wasn’t expecting it to be that bad. I think the fact that it was right after her concert tour and I got there pretty late made it one of the worst waits ever. It ended up being a three or three and a half hour wait, which was absolutely insane. I remember sometime in the middle of my waiting period, she took a pretty long break for dinner or whatever reason, so that was also part of the reason it took so long. During this time, I was just messing on my phone and talking to Ven. About halfway through, I told Ven that I was thinking about leaving and going to a Kamen Joshi event because I was tired of waiting, but Ven convinced me I should stay. She reminded me that Sayanee was my first oshimen, I would be upset if I never got to meet her, and I might not get another chance, so I stuck it out.
I know I wrote out my whole conversation with Sayanee somewhere, but I can’t seem to find it. Well, from what I remember, I told her that I went to her concert and showed her that I was wearing her T-shirt. She thanked me and asked which one, I said Osaka. Sayanee asked me if I had traveled there from America and I told her that no, I lived in Tokyo but traveled to Osaka to see her live because I won tickets there. She thanked me for traveling all that way and then I told her that I loved her album, Rainbow, and my favorite song off the album was BADDAYS. Sayaka said that she also liked BADDAYS and told me it was composed by GLAY’s Takuro (which I knew, but whatever). She did the same thing that Ogiyuka did where she followed me out and I think she shouted something dumb out at me. I’d heard from many people how godly Sayanee’s handshakes were and I was honestly a little disappointed, but I was glad I got to meet her. There’s really no good reason I should have been disappointed; even though I was saying the same kind of things she’d probably heard at least one thousand times that day, she seemed interested, asked me questions, and told me specific details about things I mentioned. I guess it’s pretty hard to have a “godly experience” with 48G idols when you’ve had a bunch of underground idols hug you and know everything about you. Like I said though, I’m glad I got to meet her and it’s amazing the amount of effort she puts into her handshakes at her level of popularity.
It’ll be interesting to see if I have any more experiences meeting 48G members in the future, but for now, that’s it. Have you met any 48 or 46G members? Which experiences were the worst? Which were the best? Let me know!